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The style of bargaining that School District 2 and the teachers union plan to employ this year stands in stark contrast to last year's negotiating nightmare.

Representatives for the district and the Billings Education Association met for 1-1/2 hours Monday to hash out the style and timing of this year's contract negotiations.

The type of bargaining the two sides are leaning toward involves small negotiating teams, limited issues and a short, intensive time frame to hammer out an agreement. Key to this type of collective bargaining is an outside facilitator who participates in the negotiations.

Last year, negotiations began in February, went into mediation in September and broke down in November. After a 21-day strike, the two sides signed a one-year contract that expires June 30.

At Monday's meeting, BEA President Allan Audet said the union wants to wrap up negotiations as quickly as possible.

"We would like a contract in the teachers' hands when they head out" for the summer, Audet said.

Board Chairwoman Katharin Kelker said she believes the style of bargaining the two sides are considering could lend itself to a quick resolution.

Human Resource Director Sandra Colman and Business Manager Deborah Long shared details of a style of bargaining they learned about at a recent conference. Intense, facilitated bargaining limits the two sides to three-member teams that can only bring five proposals to the table.

Training would precede negotiations. The two sides would also have to agree on numbers before actual negotiations begin, Long said.

Then district and union negotiators would meet with the facilitator to exchange proposals. Two weeks later, Long said, the two sides would reconnect for three days of facilitated negotiations.

"The purpose of the facilitator is to keep both sides at the table talking," Long said.

The idea would be to seal a deal by the end of the three days.

Audet asked for a break in the meeting to talk over the ideas presented to his team.

A half-hour later, the two sides reconvened, and Audet said the BEA could agree to that type of negotiating.

After further discussion, the two sides agreed to approach state Labor Standards Bureau Chief John Andrew about acting as facilitator for the negotiations. Andrew helped the two sides broker a deal during last November's strike.

Susan Olp can be reached at 657-1281 or at solp@billingsgazette.com.

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